AG Hood: New teen sentences likely

By The Associated Press

JACKSON — The only Mississippi cases likely to be affected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s new juvenile sentencing ruling are those capital murder cases where a defendant under the age of 18 was sentenced to life without parole as an automatic sentence, according to Attorney General Jim Hood.

On Monday, the Supreme Court threw out mandatory life in prison without parole for juveniles. The decision left open the possibility that individual judges could sentence juveniles to life without parole in individual cases of murder, but said state and federal laws cannot automatically impose such a sentence.

Mississippi corrections officials initially said 56 inmates were in custody who were sentenced when they were 18 or younger, but said Tuesday some inmates had multiple counts and the actual number is 46 serving capital murder sentences.

“It is our position that it will not affect those capital murder cases where the death penalty was sought and the jury returned a sentence of life without parole,” Hood said in a statement Tuesday.

“This is because the jury at that separate sentencing hearing took into consideration those factors that the United States Supreme Court held must be considered before a life without parole sentence can be imposed.

In cases that are pending on direct appeal, where a life without parole sentence was imposed, Hood said his office will file a motion for resentencing based on the Supreme Court ruling.

“Where juvenile defendants who were previously sentenced to life without parole and their sentences have already been affirmed, we expect they will file a motion for post-conviction relief based on this intervening decision,” Hood said.

At any resentencing, Hood said the trial judge “may consider those factors identified by the Supreme Court and then may resentence them to life without parole or life, which means that they will be eligible for parole at age 65.”

There are several such cases.

Among them is Tevin Benjamin, who was 15 when he was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2010.

Robert McDuff of Jackson, who is Benjamin’s appeal attorney, said of the court’s decision: “I think it will lead to new sentence hearings.”

There remains uncertainty if the ruling will pertain to those inmates already sentenced.

Hood said the Supreme Court decision “does not prohibit life without parole sentences if the trial judge has discretion to sentence a juvenile to a life with parole.”

“Most likely the only cases that will be affected by the ruling are those capital murder cases where one under the age of 18 was sentenced to life without parole as an automatic sentence. Those automatic sentences were the result of

“Those automatic sentences were the result of a decision of the Mississippi Supreme Court holding that an amendment to the parole statute only left life without parole as a sentence for capital murder if death was not imposed. That ruling coupled with the earlier United States Supreme Court ruling prohibiting the death penalty for those under the age of 18 left us with only life without parole as a sentence for capital murder,” Hood said.

Benjamin’s trial attorney, Dustin Thomas of Pascagoula, said Monday’s decision could mean Benjamin will get a new sentencing hearing, but there is no guarantee.

“I think they are having that discussion all over the country,” Thomas said about those who were already sentenced as juveniles. “I think they all should get new sentencing hearings.”